It’s the Year of the Cock. No, no, not that Year of the Cock, when TIME named Donald Trump its 2016 Person of the Year. Today marks Lunar New Year, and for many of its Chinese celebrants, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster – or, if we’re not so prudish, Cock. But what’s all this cockeyed rooster/cock cockamamie about, anyway?
I wrote about some of the diverse uses of the bird, the single-digit salute, the flip-off—the finger—in my book Damn!, and subsequently here at Strong Language in my digital piece, “Bird is the Word.” I found roots that harked back to a passage in The Clouds by Aristophanes, and to ancient Rome, where it was called the digitus impudicus, or the “impudent finger.” In an epigram of the first century poet Martial, he “points his finger, and the insulting one at that, towards Alcon, Dasius and Symmachus.” Emperor Caligula offering of his extended middle finger, rather than his hand, to his subjects to kiss was seen as scandalous. But that was Nero for you. What else did you expect? The gesture became so abhorrent that Augustus Caesar banished an actor from Rome for giving the finger to an audience member who hissed at the man during a performance. Although my next book, the cookbook memoir Not My Mother’s Kitchen, did not contain a single cussword or allusion to one, I discovered along the way that the Italian peninsula still had their fingers on the pulse of profanity—only this time with figs. Continue reading
Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the media’s coverage of the Donald Trump pussy-grab tape: “The word Trump used may not be the most obscene term for a woman’s genital area. But it’s the one that focuses on it in a purely sexual way.” (Also see our own posts on the subject: A Banner Day for Profanity, by Ben Zimmer; Pussy on a Hot Trump Mic, by Copy Curmudgeon; and Watershed Moments: Donald Trump, Rakeyia Scott, and the Times, by Blake Eskin.)
Speaking of Trumpian vulgarities, Language Log ponders the candidate’s use of “like a bitch.”
Arnold Zwicky tracks down the history of jackhole: coined by two Los Angeles radio personalities to circumvent Federal Communications Commission language proscriptions.
This is a Missouri gun shop called Tactical Sh*t pic.twitter.com/g3zmYzDDCz
— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) October 10, 2016
(Hat tip: @scarequotes)
It’s wink-wink-nudge-nudge all the way down with these new ads, one circulating in San Francisco, the others in U.S.-wide distribution.
The San Francisco ad, which I spotted on the side of a Muni bus, is for CUESA, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, which operates several huge farmers’ markets each week in San Francisco and Oakland. The ads are meant to persuade shoppers to embrace less-than-supermarket-perfect fruits and vegetables.
New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, consisting of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, had a two-season TV series in 2007–09 full of inspired parody and goofy adventures. The show’s language is generally mild or euphemised:
So when truly strong language is called for, it’s a big deal. Here, mild-mannered and long-suffering band manager Murray Hewitt finally loses his patience: